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Volunteer

Tyler Freitas in 2012


Expanding at a rate of over 15 km per year, the Gobi desert is making the threat of desertification a very real issue for Mongolia. With few nutrients and even less water the Gobi desert is a formidable environment in which to try to and grow anything. However, despite the harsh and challenging conditions Byamba has been planting and nurturing the trees in her nursery in Mandalgobi for over 30 years. The care and love she and her family devote to the project is immediately evident in their dedication and perseverance in their efforts. The two weeks I spent with Byamba, her husband Radnaa and their family was a phenomenal experience. They immediately welcomed me into their family and made me feel right at home. Despite the language barrier we quickly bonded as we shared many laughs over meals and while working in the nursery.


It was powerful to witness how the project has been transforming the town of Mandalgobi and the surrounding area. The tree nursery has become a corner stone feature of the town as a public park and playground are being built at the edges of Byamba's nursery. Ecologically, the trees play a key role as  they retain the precious top soil. The trees also act as a barrier, protecting the town from the brunt of the powerful winds which howl across the Gobi.


In addition to the nursery, the community beautified and greener as trees are transplanted throughout the town. Other trees are transplanted to key areas where they retain vital topsoil and nutrients fighting desertification. Raising these trees under such imposing conditions, it takes Byamba and her family unwavering commitment to nurture them. The benefit they provide to both the community and the environment however is clearly evident. During the two weeks I stayed in Mandalgobi with Byamba and Radnaa they treated me like their son. I stayed in a beautiful ger and enjoyed hearty and tasty local meals with the whole family.  At the nursery we planted dozens of new seedlings, watering them and building and rebuilding the sandy mounds which shields them from the buffeting wind. Whether is was digging holes for the seedlings or watering other young trees the tranquility and quiet happiness I found there was profound. This was a wonderful experience and a fantastic opportunity to give back. The two weeks flew by far too quickly. The kindness and generosity showed to me was as powerful as the dedication and love Byamba has invested in nurturing the trees.

Mike & Carol in 2012


On the 5th July 2012, we headed about 270km south to a town called Manadalgobi in the north of the Gobi desert. We wanted to visit the Gobi Oasis project, one of the charities we are supporting through our trip, to see it for ourselves. It also gave us the opportunity of spending time with a Mongolian family and staying  in a ger for a night or so.


It is an experience we would recommend it to anyone. All our meals were cooked for us in a special dining building and Carol was well catered for. We had a full day with Byamba and Radnaa and their family. In the morning we went to visit one of the tree planting areas which is on the edge of the town and is in the process of being transformed from a sandy wasteland to a green belt which will help stabilise the desert and stop it encroaching on the town.


Byamba mainly uses elm and saxaul trees which don’t grow very big but have an extensive root network which binds the soil/sand, although she mixes these with other species such as cherry. The potatoes, carrots and onions growing as part of the vegetable project looked very healthy and it was good to meet some of the local people who are tending the plots.


Byamba explained to us that as vegetable growing is not really part of Mongolian culture it has been difficult to stimulate people’s interest. We were really impressed by Byamba’s commitment and enthusiasm to her work - over 10,000 trees planted so far. Our thanks to the whole family especially Goyo for arranging it, Urnaa for all her delicious food and Uuganaa for taking time out from her family to come and translate for us.

Penny & Gerald in 2010


“We like the idea of ‘responsible tourism’ and chose the Gobi Oasis Project which involves planting of a particular type of tree (Saxaul) to prevent the desertification of the Gobi Desert. Byamba and Radnaa were our hosts for the few days we spent in Mandalgobi, when we combined tree planting with the splendours of the Naadam Festival.  We could watch such wonderful sports like horse riding, wrestling and archery, and mingle with the local people and eat traditional food.


Only by witnessing the work that has gone into this project to bring it where it is does one realise how committed Byamba and her husband are, together with all the volunteers  who have made such a valuable contribution.
 
Water is scarce and has to be purchased and carefully husbanded. The trees are brought to the project as saplings and a great deal of planning is required deciding where and when they are planted.   The project requires hard work throughout the year to maintain it and promote its growth and future potential.

In short the tree planting experience was the highlight of our delightful trip to Mongolia – a wonderful experience enjoyed with a lovely and delightful nation of people.

Emma & Bart in 2010

“We’d heard about Byamba’s project before: Goyo, her daughter, had won silver in the Paul Morrison Guide Awards 2007 and donated her prize money to the advancement of Gobi Oasis so, naturally, we were keen to visit when we finally booked our trip to Mongolia in May 2010.

We arrived late one evening towards the end of the holiday and were warmly welcomed by Byamba and her husband, Radnaa, into their home compound in Mandalgobi. Radnaa quickly whipped up some meat and noodle soup with fresh spring  onions – grown lovingly in their garden, no less – and Byamba retrieved her albums containing photos and newspaper clippings collected over the 35 years the project has been running. 

 

It’s clear to see that while her Soviet-influenced outfits and fur hats have disappeared over the years, her commitment to combating desertification in the Gobi hasn’t faltered.  It’s a rare thing  for a person to find – and commit to – a lifetime goal, and in many ways I’m envious of  ‘Forest Byamba’ (as she’s known throughout the  region): the act of planting a tree may be a humble one, but her daily dedication to the work has compounded over the years to create a greener, healthier environment for generations to come.  An achievement we should aspire to too.

On the drive back to the village, Byamba turns to look at us in the back seat  and says ‘A wise man once said: if you plant just one tree, it will be a great memory on the earth’. If that’s true, Byamba has created more than memories – she’s cultivated a legacy.”



Gobi Oasis 2012

Lyn Hughes in 2009


Goyo and I headed up the town’s hill to get a view of the tree nursery. The wind at the summit was the strongest I had ever encountered, and I clutched a lamp post as we gazed down at the enclosure of spindly shrubs and trees.


The trees didn’t look much more impressive when I saw them close up the next morning. It was a shock to find that some of them were 29 years old, planted when Byamba was carrying Goyo. But then the wind blew a little harder, and you could see how the dozen different types of bush and tree – including willow, used in the building of gers, and saxaul, a natural desert stabiliser – were acting as a windbreak, protecting the town from the brunt of the wind’s force.


This was once a government-owned project, but when Mongolia gained its independence Byamba bought the eight hectares herself. “These trees are like my children. I have tended every one and watched them grow,” she announced.


Byamba showed me the trees that were planted thanks to the bursary money, before inviting me to plant a sapling on behalf of Wanderlust. The family then had a surprise for me – a sign was brought out and thrust into a pre-dug hole. When it was unveiled it read “Paul Morrison, Wanderlust”. I was glad of my dark glasses as I was invited to tie a blue scarf around it.


To see the clip, please click here.

Mo Strangeman in 2006

"Joining Byamba's project in Mandalgobi gave me a unique chance to share in the life of Mongolia. I quickly learned how passionate and committed she is to achieving the growth of vital vegetation in the driest of areas. By hand, hoe, bucket and hose, she and her local helpers gather seeds, plant and nurture the various types of hardy and locally suitable trees and bushes, nurturing them daily. Arriving by truck, water supplies are precious, erratic and expensive. I see in my mind's eye Byamba in the evening sun, holding the Nursery's hose aloft to drain out the last drops into a nearby sapling’s trench.

It also takes long tractor drives and a great deal of work to transplant them where they are most needed, setting them next to more established ones to provide protection and help hold the sandy terrain against desertification. I could see how, after some years of growth, huge tracts of land are now alive and green and why the project aims to continue to do this over numerous hectares annually.

The dry climate and harsh winters make it a real challenge but Byamba has developed this successful project from her agricultural training, experience and her own personal drive. The fun and laughter we had alongside it all was as liberating as the fulfilling of one of my long-held dreams - to stay in traditional gers, (sheep's wool–felt roofed houses), 'white pearls' set within the huge and magnificent Mongolian landscape. The hospitality all hardworking herdsmen and their families always give so readily and naturally while travelling long distances across steppe and desert touched me every time. Their meaty and dairy diet takes some adjusting to but after supper we'd be outside singing traditional songs together under vast domes of sky bejewelled with stars, from the pole star to the 'all but touchable' ones right down on the horizon. Around us were their herds of camels, horses, sheep and goats, often joining in with their own vocals and I loved the very special closeness all of this brought within the enormous space of land and sky that is Mongolia.
 
I discovered a country and people whose path through life is treasurable with deep down ancient sharing ways and Tibetan Buddhist traditions embedded in its still horse-led culture. Amid everyone's hard work the numerous local and regional Naadams (festivals) are opportunities for colour and enjoyment through gathering together and a myriad of competitions – thrilling horsemanship, youngsters included, plus wrestling, archery, traditional throat-singing, airag ( horse mare's milk) drinking until bursting point, dancing and children's games using sheep's ankle bones. To see the pride of the most skilled and the best-dressed horsemen was to witness something special - that a deep sense of belonging to the land is still motivating their life. What I also knew was to support conserving that land and therefore that life had become my own delight. 'Bayarlalaa' Byamba – thank you, may the project and the land continue to thrive."



Gobi Oasis 2012

You can volunteer during summer months at this conservation project site in Mandalgobi, Dundgobi, Mongolia and ideal times are from April till Sep every year. You can get involved in daily activities and duties to run the nursery from watering trees, keeping weeds off, making plant beds, or removing sand. A lot of physical activities involved and you would have to work during hot summer days, sometimes early mornings and late afternoons are best times to work to avoid the heat.


We keep some trees for you to plant to mark your visit or something special to you i.e. your engagement, wedding, anniversary, memorial or achievements. If you would like to volunteer in person, we charge £50 per person per day which includes three simple meals prepared by the hosts and small donations for the project.